Based on A True Story

How much of what you read do you believe?

Little-bitey, AKA Mabitey, only reads non-fiction. She doesn’t look down her nose on fiction, or make fun of what I read or write, or read what I write. Unlike my Big-Bitey, the man who introduced me to Science Fiction, the guy who talks computer geek stuff to me, the fellow who can’t get enough of terrorist-filled spy stories or Alex Cross, Mabitey  prefers to broaden her mind with facts, with biographies, and histories.

A few years ago she and I watched Assume the Position, with the actor/comedian Robert Wuhl. He discusses facts, myths, and myths that became facts, tying everything so neatly to John Ford’s film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. He quotes a line from the movie, ” when legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Then there’s the curious case of the movie Fargo, which begins with This is a true story.  It is in fact, based on the story the Coen Brothers made up.  But people believed a kidnapping led to someone being ground up in a woodchipper simply because they were told to.

And of course, there’s the Da Vinci Code.

So I got to thinking.

How much of real life can I steal and come up with something completely fictitious? Whose life can I copy without getting sued? Just how different to I have to be, how thinly disguised is necessary to avoid litigation?  Because I know someone who’s ripe to be a character. The quirks, the appearance, the lifestyle this person has is begging to be included in something I write.

If I do write about them, would they be flattered?

If not, could I defend myself by telling them they’re a legend, which makes them fact, which means they could live forever in history?

If I did, then maybe Little-bitey would read one of my books because then it would be a historical biography.

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